Voting in elections is not related to public policy, such as to The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the new Indiana law which gave greater legal protections to businesses that refuse service out of religious belief.
Or is it?
Let’s take a look.
Over four days in April, Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully wrote columns criticizing Governor Pence and The Indiana General Assembly. One suggested that The Governor is not qualified; he is “out of his league.” Another said that Indiana Republicans embarrassed the state. The last argued that Indiana citizens are at fault for not voting in larger numbers. Taken together, an assumption is that Mr. Tully was criticizing voters for electing Republican legislators and Governor Pence. The solution, he said, is that more citizens should vote.
Mr. Tully is somewhat correct, but mostly incorrect. He is mostly incorrect because no direct connection exists between the election of November, 2014, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Same sex marriage was an issue, but the right to discriminate was not. Neither the 30 % of Hoosiers who voted nor the 70 % who did not were aware of the proposal. No evidence exists that election results would have been different if a larger number of persons voted, and some statisticians argue that a larger sample does not change any result; they also believe that public opinion can be accurately judged based on small samples.
What is missing in our understanding is that citizens did, in fact, exercise their democratic responsibilities by publicly pushing back against the act. Local and national political reaction was so vociferous, unified and public that Indiana political leaders were forced to modify the act. They heard the message. The greater American tradition of free speech, of the right to petition and to protest, revealed a solid majority with a clear and unequivocal point of view. Citizens acted outside the voting both, and they achieved change.
On the other hand, greater voter participation in elections likely has positive social values. Therefore, commentators, speaking like ministers from the pulpit, who criticize citizens, fail us by not proposing specific reforms that might improve voting habits. Many potential reforms are well known: elimination of stark political gerrymandering; voting on Sundays: voting on a national holiday such as Veterans Day; expanding hours of voting; providing more locations to vote prior to voting day; requiring employers to facilitate and to encourage voting by their employees. Such structural changes might improve voter turnout. Moral lectures will not.
John Guy is a wealth manager in Indianapolis; he is author of “Middle Man, A Broker’s Tale.”